Monday, February 19, 2018

South Africa: Endangered African Penguins Hit By H5N8


Last May and June, Highly Pathogenic (HPAI) H5N8 made the jump from West and Central Africa into the southern hemisphere, carried there by migratory birds (see map below), and over the next four months sparked scores of outbreaks in wild birds and commercial poultry in South Africa.

H5N8's Arrival In June Of 2017

By late October (and the arrival of spring in the Southern Hemisphere), outbreaks of H5N8 in poultry ended in South Africa, and we've heard very little over the past 90 days.  
Today, however, the South African press has erupted with numerous reports of H5N8 having been discovered in several African Penguin colonies, producing morbidity and mortality among the endangered birds.  
A statement issued by the South African government follows:
Western Cape agriculture confirms further incidences of highly pathogenic H5N8 avian flu

19 Feb 2018
No new commercial poultry infections but Minister urges caution as avian flu detected in other seabird species
The Department of Agriculture has confirmed that further incidences of highly pathogenic H5N8 avian flu have been detected amongst Western Cape sea bird populations. Amongst African penguins, seven cases from six different sites across the provincial coastline have tested positive.
Due to the status of African penguins as endangered, a decision to treat infected birds has been taken. Treatment protocols are similar to those for flu in humans- appropriate nutrition, hydration, vitamins, and the administration of anti-inflammatory drugs or antibiotics for any secondary infections if necessary. Of the seven cases, one has survived.
No new cases of the disease have been reported in the commercial poultry sector since October.
Minister of Economic Opportunities, Alan Winde said “the management authorities of all major seabird colonies around the coastline are monitoring their zones closely. All necessary precautionary protocols to contain the spread of the disease have been implemented and extended surveillance and collaboration across sectors is assisting with further epidemiological evaluations.”
CapeNature CEO Razeena Omar said “CapeNature is working closely with the state vet and has put procedures in place to monitor the virus and restrict the spread by humans between infected and non-infected areas”.
In respect of other wild seabirds, there is no benefit to be gained from trying to control the virus through culling or habitat destruction.
Affected birds show symptoms such as twitching and head tremors and may have difficulty breathing.  Terns and other flying birds can lose their ability to sustain flight.
Avian influenza is a viral respiratory disease of birds that is primarily spread through direct contact between healthy and infected birds, or via indirect contact with contaminated equipment or other materials. The virus is present in the faeces of infected birds and in discharges from their nostrils, mouth and eyes.
The H5N8 strain has not been shown to infect humans.
Minister Winde has urged that sick sea birds be reported to the nearest seabird rehabilitation centre. As a precautionary measure it is advisable that you do not touch these birds if you have pet birds at home or if you are working in the poultry or ostrich industry.
Members of the public are also urged to report abnormal numbers of dead wild birds to a local state veterinarian or the responsible conservation authority. If possible, members of the public should take a photo, and record the location, species and number of dead birds observed.

Below is a list of contact numbers for seabird rehabilitation centres:
Western Cape:
  • Cape Town and surrounds: SANCCOB 021 557 6155
  • Overstrand and surrounds: African Penguin & Seabird Sanctuary 0725987117
  • Mossel Bay and surrounds:  SAPREC 0823643382
  • Plettenberg Bay and surrounds: Tenikwa 0824861515
Eastern Cape:
  • Port Elizabeth and surrounds: SANCCOB 041 583 1830
Media enquires:
Bianca Capazorio
Tel: 021 483 3550
Cell: 072 372 7044
Province: Western Cape
More on: Agriculture
The persistence of H5N8 in wild birds was widely reported in Europe last summer, although by fall the virus had pretty much disappeared, only to be replaced by a newly reassorted H5N6 virus.
It is now late summer in the Southern Hemisphere, and the finding of H5N8 activity at six sites along the shores of the Western Cape has ramifications not only for the endangered birds, but for a potential return of the virus as summer turns into autumn.
And while penguins are are flightless birds, other seabirds in the area are not, and could potentially spread the virus both locally, and globally via migratory flyways (see map below).

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